Friday, 8 November 2013

Nearing the end

Its been a crazy week. Let me describe my last couple of days for you. 2 days ago, I arrived in Cartagena by plane. Cartagena is a port town about 24 hours north of bogota, Colombia. I was really impressed with bogota. Many of the capital cities I have visited in south america were pretty western and frankly, a bit boring. Bogota has a really great feel to it. The city seems east to navigate, the people are friendly and it seems to have held on to a lot character and charm in its growth. I caught a taxi from bogota airport to a hostel I had heard about from a friend. When my taxi turned the last corner into the street the hostel was on, I saw tom, cat and Maddie walking on the sidewalk. I jumped out to an exciting reception of hugs and smiles. A couple of nights of salsa, cocktails and delicious pastries and we hopped on the plane to Cartagena.

From Cartagena we caught a 2 hour bus to a spot where we jumped on the back of a few motorcycles with no leathers or helmets and sped off to a ferry that took us to playa Blanca, a nicer beach. All I could think of was 'if I fall off right now, I will die'. A couple of times tom and I stopped while the guys riding checked there bikes. The 2 girls riding in front sped off, far from our view. I worried something suspect was going on but tom didn't seem to be worried, so I tried to relax. We finally arrived at santa Blanca and grabbed some lunch. A man came out carrying a tray of three massive fish and asked us to choose which cut we wanted from which fish. Pretty cool. We all chose a fillet of the biggest fish. It came out served with lime, rice, salad and fried banana patties. It was delightful and wasn't expensive at all.

For accommodation, we went with the cheapest option of hammocks. In hind sight, I would have paid a bit more and got something away from the ridiculous amount of mosquito's and sandfly. I got exactly 0 hours of sleep and am covered in bites. Turns out you don't need much sleep when you live on a beach though. Today I sat down, had a drink, ate some food, went for a swim and I think I smiled at some people too. Tonight I'm getting on a speedboat back to Cartagena and then a bus to Medellin. Not long at all until I'm back in Australia.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Jungles and concrete jungles

I finally arrived in Lima after one hell of a bus ride. 23 hours on a small seat that reclined just enough to give off the illusion that it was possible to get some sleep. As we left Cusco through the mountainous terrain and winding roads, I felt a bit ill. I popped a few pills and hoped it would pass. I didn't get to see much of the country side because it was an overnight bus but there was one section of the trip where it seemed as though I was traveling directly through a cloud. I wondered how much visibility the driver must have had. Bus rides are interesting in Peru. Although the bus's themselves are more comfortable then Indian bus's, there are other concerns. Often there are reports of drunk drivers as well as even one story reporting a company wanted to save money by hiring a young boy without a license to drive. I question whether these are simply just travelers stories. This particular bus ride I would just begin to shut my eyes when we would come to a halt and 3 or 4 customs officers or police would board and shine a flashlight in the passengers faces. I sound like a whinging gringo. The bus ride was definitely not bad considering it went for over 20 hours.

Lima is definitely a lot better then I expected. All I had heard of this place is that its gloomy, boring and expensive. I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend and his girlfriend at a second story apartment in the popular Miraflores suburb of Lima. It was nice to have a kitchen to cook my own meals again. That night, my friends Peruvian girlfriend took us all out to her favourite restaurant in Lima. I tried octopus with squid ink mayonnaise, a Frito misto type dish, fish cooked in citrus with some kind of sweet potato and arroz de mariscos, a beautiful paella type rice dish. All the dishes were great albeit quite expensive. The next couple of days, I spent catching up with my friend and relaxing after being in hostels for the last few months. We decided to take the bus to mancora, a beach location in northern Peru. Mancora is absolutely beautiful. I write this by day sitting on a balcony sipping a beer and soaking up the sunlight that was so lacking in Lima. Watching birds dive headfirst into the ocean to catch fish and whalkes breaching and leaping out of the water, not even 50 metres from shore. Beautiful.The plan is to explore the neighboring cities to mancora that are less touristy, head back to Lima for Halloween and then fly to Colombia to bypass the ridiculous border crossing and extending bus rides.

Also, I have to explain the title to my last blog entry. I had been on a rather intense shamanic diet in the lead up to my ayahuasca ceremony and missed salty and well.... Unhealthy food. Anyway I bought a jar of peanut butter and for breakfast completely devoured the stuff. That jar was gone in less then a week!

Tip of the day - when you swear or say rude things in Spanish, try to remember everyone in Peru speaks Spanish...

Friday, 11 October 2013

Peanut butter binge

Cusco, the storied capital of the incan empire and gateway to the imperial city of machu Picchu, has been one of the undisputed highlights of south america and even my trip. Stone streets and building foundations laid by Incas more than 5 centuries ago. Cusco is one of those rare places that seems to preserve its unique character and enduring appeal despite its prominent over abundance of tourists and tour companies. The Spanish conquistadors understood that it was essential to topple the capital city to take control of the region, a feat they ultimately accomplished after an epic battle at sacsayhuaman. The Spanish razed most incan buildings but in many cases, they found the structures so well engineered that they built upon the very foundations of incan Cusco.

Apparently, the Incas designed their city in the shape of a puma, (although I cannot see this for the life of me), with the north side being the head. I've tried looking at a map but I guess with huge amount of growth it more closely resembles a city rather than a puma. The center of the city is plaza de armas. Jam packed with travel agencies, shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. I was often offered some obscure art by a local who would then offer some cocaine, marijuana or other illegal substance. After saying no to everything, I would often get the reaction, 'well what DO you want?!'

I have spent a huge chunk of my trip in Cusco and that's no coincidence. Its a developed city where anything you might want is readily available as well as not being a dirty, dangerous city which some people may consider Lima to be. (My next destination funnily enough). Throughout my trip in Cusco, I've been staying at dragonfly hostels. Just 4 months old and managed by a ridiculously nice and quirky Frenchman. You can often find me at the bar spitting out broken French while he fixes up pisco sours on their 2 for 1 nights.

The markets in Cusco are great, regardless of what you're after. I bought a dozen eggs for a dollar and then turned the corner and picked up a llama fetus to aid me in my future endeavors. I'm just kidding but the fact is, I could have if I wanted to. Almost everyday I would head down to the markets with a friend for a freshly squeezed fruit juice. We made friends with a woman who despite having a seemingly endless supply of customers, never had any change for us. It was all quite a laugh. Change is half the battle. The other half is figuring out what the Spanish word is for basil, coriander or soy sauce.

I will try to keep on top of my blog from now on. Finding wi fi in the valley on my day trips can prove difficult. Next stop, grande mala sucio Lima.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

La paz and sucre

I haven't been in the mood to write, maybe because I've been living in altitude and feeling tired all the time. I have spent a week in Sucre going to school everyday to learn Spanish. It has been great fun and really helpful. I've decided once I reach Peru and settle down again I will begin lessons again. After my week in Sucre I caught a bus to la paz, where I spent 3 days eating and drinking and being generally unproductive.

I see La paz and Sucre having a rivalry similar to that of Sydney and Melbourne's. The difference is, Sucre is the capital of Bolivia but La Paz often takes that title being bigger, more well known and more government buildings. I fell in love with Sucre, I couldn't say the same for la Paz. Although impressive and boasting an incredible backdrop, the city just failed to grab me as anything more than a grimy big city with dynamic people and buildings. Upon arriving in Sucre we were greeted with a festival filled the city with vibrant color and life. Marching bands, dancers and hundreds of bolivians filled the street all enjoying the festivities. I was staying in a huge red house called Quechua inn, owned by a man called Ricardo who was ever so helpful while suggesting the best things to do in Sucre. A week flew past and I found myself wishing I was there much longer.

In La Paz I stayed In a much more party orientated hostel called loki hostel. I must be getting old cos I scoffed at the idiots at the bar every night chanting Loki Loki Loki, Oi oi Oi, before they emptied shots of jagermeister and red bull into their mouths. Tom and I decided to enter Peru and meet up with a mutual friend in Cusco. The border crossing was confusing. We left from a town called copacobana where we caught a boat on lake Titicaca. The highest lake in the world. We trekked an Inca trail on isla Del Sol that took us about four hours. Arriving back at our hostel that night we pretty much passed out.

I'm back in Cusco now so I will skip that part for now and move on to detail pisac. A small town about 45 minutes from Cusco. The main reason for visiting this beautiful little town was to be a part of an ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a vine found in the amazon. Peruvian shamans have been cooking this vine with another plant for thousands of years and using the muddy broth as a medicine to cure all kinds of ailments. The ayahuasca vine contains DMT, known also as the spirit molecule. Every living thing contains DMT, including us. Our brains release this chemical into our bodies when we are born and also at death. I was naturally very curious, especially with the great amount of faith that Peruvians have in the medicine. The town of pisac has a temple at the base of a mountain which practice ayahuasca ceremonies weekly. Pisac is also home to some incredible vegetarian food, great markets and spiritual activities like tai chi and yoga. Friday arrived and I was very nervous for the night to roll around and to join the ceremony. I've written a very very vague run down on the ceremony.

Ayohuasca is highly recommended. A powerful journey of self discovery, understanding and compassion. I went so deep in to my consciousness and was shown some pretty dark things. Although absolutely terrifying, it was also nurturing and compassionate. I had conversations with different parts of my body and was shown that every aspect of myself and others were just important as any each other. I'm still trying to grasp what most of my visions mean, but the feeling that remains is strong and present. I remember being in a swamp in the jungle, with all life bubbling and glowing around me with beautiful rainbow lucidity until I fell in to the swamp and dived into the underworld. I saw some nightmarish things, all of which frightened me immensely but also seemed important in some way, the visions were showing me darkness inside me but they were trying to help me purge. I was really scared and was pleading with ayahuasca to be kind and help me leave this place.

She told me I could handle it and I would be fine. I disagreed. I remember in this collage of organs and blood and flesh of rainbows and reptilian beings, some sort of being with a jesters hat reaching out to me. His hand unravelled and his fingers extended and became tiny spiders which crawled up my feet and legs into my stomach. I heard a voice saying surrender and the spiders enveloped me as the bubbling and popping got louder. I heard a high pitched ringing which escalated until unbearable. The spiders crawled through my veins until the made their way through my mouth and I purged into my bucket. As soon as I threw up, the shaman began to play an icaro which is a song they say comes from the plant itself. The timing was surreal and perfect. I remember feeling so much love from within me and the visions became explosions of color and light. I felt hands reaching out for me which I couldn't tell if they were real. All I knew was they were trying to help. My body temperature began to rise but I was still seeing visions and lessons about myself that may be too personal to share. I felt so hot but it seemed irrelevant until I just felt the feeling of ayahuasca telling me I needed to cool down.

I don't know how to explain it  but I felt as though there was 5 or more beings with huge jungle leaves waving wind and mint infused smoke in my direction. I felt fingers tug on my hoodie zip for a split second. I unzipped my hoodie and placed it to my side. As soon as I did this I felt something like a nod or a yes. I couldn't tell but I knew ayahuasca wanted to move on. I was in the jungle now except not really. I felt somewhere completely different and was no longer scared. Ayahuasca shared some deeply personal, emotional things with me. Some lessons after hearing or feeling them I would grin or laugh and feel that it was so clear and obvious. Like I said, I'm still trying to piece things together, but it was a highly confronting, personal and insightful experience and I have learnt and felt things that are completely different to anything I have felt before. I also felt like I barely scratched the surface but that I was only shown what I was ready to see. I have a new appreciation and sense of understanding for all living and individual things. Very crazy and eye opening and at times scary with some visions of death that are terrifying but beautiful. But ah yes, so confusing to rationalize but the feelings I'm left with are crystal clear.

I knocked on the door of 'hyperspace' and whhatever answered the door
was so fantastically astounding that I tucked tail and ran home to mummy!

It was not threatening .... but simply so profoundly REAL and BEYOND ANYTHING EVER IMAGINED that it freaked me out!
I like that .. it takes a lot to freak me out.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Uyuni - portosi - sucre

When traveling in Bolivia, It seems to me that once you hop on a bus and leave the city or town you were previously in, the coming hours will be very interesting. I had just left uyuni after purchasing a bus ticket to Sucre via portosi. It was seemingly easy. Ride the bus 6 hours and change at portosi where I will spend another 3ish hours driving until I arrive in Sucre. This is the plan. Between cities there is epic mountain ranges and rolling plains until a city pops out of nowhere and there is a mad scramble for your bags. This is bus travel in Bolivia and it takes some getting used to. (Although I feel like experiencing travel in India has given me an edge).

The bus to portosi was not so bad. I polished off a bag of mnm's and finished reading Hunter s. Thompsons, kingdom of fear. That guy is quite the outlaw. So we arrive in portosi which is at a ridiculous altitude. Something over 4000m, (I should correct an error I made last post. I actually climbed to 5000m!) It looked like rain clouds as we sat at the bus station, lost and confused. As we were discussing what the hell was going on with this bus change over, it began to hail. Tiny ice cubes littered the streets as stall owners shuffled into shelter. I love how a lot of the women have adopted the English bowler hat as a must have fashion item. Our bus driver beckoned for us to jump on the bus again. We are taken to another terminal and have our tickets exchanged for a transfer ticket to Sucre.

Waiting for about 45 minutes as dogs roam past searching for food or begging stall owners, finally our new bus arrives. We spend another half an hour helping the other passengers stuff the obviously overwhelming luggage into an obviously underwhelming luggage compartment. I hear many, 'es no posible'! Somehow we make it work and board the bus on route to Sucre.

Monday, 9 September 2013

High altitude - hola pinche gringo.

I'm writing this blog entry from a room in a hostel made entirely of salt. I'm wearing a beanie, 3 jumpers, a coat, 2 pairs of socks and have just removed my alpaca gloves in order to properly type out my story. Oh yeah, I'm also under the covers in bed. I am cold now but tonight it will reach -14 degrees Celsius. The last few days have been nothing short of amazing. I'm going to skip the top end of Argentina because I'm heading back there towards the end of my trip.

So! The last 3 days I have been traveling Bolivia by jeep. I arrived in a desert town called uyuni, which is a 10 hour journey from the Bolivian/Argentina border. Uyuni is quite cool. Its a quaint town where the people smile and listen to the music being pumped through amplifiers in the center of town. A guide notices me waltzing around town with a smarmy grin on my face, sussing out whether I will find a hostel for the night. I feel bad for forgetting his name but he was all class. I was shown where the best and only working atm machine was, where I could use WiFi and also a nice cheap Mexican/Italian restaurant. I decided to book the tour of the salt flats through the guide.

I devoured some burritos and fell asleep in a cheap hostel without a shower. In the morning around 10, I loaded my stuff into an old faithful jeep that looked as though it had been rolled several times and dipped in a vat of dust and oil. First stop were the salt flats. Once a prehistoric ocean spanning 12,000km, the years had dried up the water leaving expansive salt flats. I took some photos using the salt flats as a backdrop which allowed me to play with perspective and shoot some wicked film. I wasn't aware that Bolivia had such diverse landscapes. Throughout the last two days I've seen volcano's, train graveyards, green lagoons covered with ice, sandy deserts, huge rock formations and blood red lagoons populated by flamingos searching for food. I also chased a pack of llamas, did some rock climbing and took pictures of snow covered mountain peaks. All of these incredible locations are within about 80km of each other. Tomorrow I'm up at 5am to climb to 4850ft where I will witness the geysers before sunrise. The air is thin and it can be hard to breathe at times but I already feel my body adjusting.

Bolivia is fantastic. The people are friendly and helpful and love to share the experience of their country. I'm looking forward to catching the bus to sucrae where I will stay for a week and eat llama and practice my Spanish. I've taken many photos but am still unable to upload them without a proper desktop computer so the photos are all courtesy of my Australian friend, Vicky.

Vino, carne y chicas

Argentina is my Puerto of entry. See, I'm basically fluent in Spanish already. Heh, so I obviously have a long way to go but I'm very much enjoying learning. I have a very basic understanding of French and it has somewhat transferred into Spanish which has helped me with forming small sentences and asking if it is possible to ride a bus somewhere and how much that bottle of malbec is. Malbec is fucking delicious by the way. I'm surprised I haven't been exposed to it from my vino loving parents.

Before I get too much off track, I'll explain what I've been up to this last week or so. As I said, I flew into Buenos Aires which was a nice relaxing journey with south African airlines. I paid way too much for a taxi to my hostel in San telmo. San telmo is basically backpacker central and seemed 'backpackerish' and rather central. It borders on an area of b.a called La Boca which the lonely planet guide says one should exercise extreme caution and that there is a police officer situated on roads that are known crime spots, directing tourists away. I didn't see any of this, mind you. La Boca is very cool. I walked through the markets, witnessed a political rally and sat down at a cafe and ordered a coffee and some churros.

That night I booked something called the Argentine experience. I'll explain in detail how the night went down because it was worth every penny and I would recommend it to anyone fresh off the plane. We arrive in this storefront restaurant and are greeted with a wine cocktail called a malbeca. It contains crushed lime, sugar syrup, malbec, apple juice and pisco. Very nice. Cocktail in hand, we are ushered to a table with 20 wine glasses, all with a fragrance bottle inside. It is our job to test our noses and pin point the individual fragrances and flavors often associated with wine. I scored a measly 1 out of 20. I was rocking a very heavy cold mind you and clearly would have sported a perfect score if I was healthy and in my prime.

Games aside, it was time to eat... And drink... And also drink. We sat at a bar as a very witty and bubbly gentleman (perhaps from the wine?), taught us how to make 3 separate wine based cocktails each with a delicious tapas to compliment it. One word. Incredible. The first tapas was a skewered red pepper, mushroom and cube of beef. My first experience of beef in Argentina and I have to say it lives up to the hype. After our introduction to some of the flavours we would be experiencing that night we are brought up stairs to a table and taught how to make empanadas. Sort of like a pastie crossed with a meat pie. Using the technique they showed us where you pull and twist the pastry to seal it, I had created my first empanada and in turn, ate my first empanada. Also delicious. I have to add by this time I was already quite full and quite drunk from the apparently never ending wine supply.

The main course was simple and classic. Baked vegetables and a great big juicy steak. The best I've ever tried. Firstly the cows are bred and fed in a different way and secondly the method in which the protein is cooked is complex. The chef starts by leaving the meat overnight in the fridge with a salt and pepper season causing it to form a sort of crust, then the meat is taken out the next day and left to room temperature. After it is at room temperature it is cooked to your liking. Very juicy. By the end of the night I was satisfied with my over indulgent evening. It didn't end there though. One of the waiters took me and my friends out to a house that had been converted to host parties. By the time I was back at the hostel, I was destroyed. Asleep before my head hit the pillow. 2 more days in Buenos Aires and on to the university city of salta. Museums, flowers made from old aeroplane panels, ridiculous amounts of food and too much wine. We had realized that b.a was burning a serious hole in our wallets so the plan is to head north for Bolivia.

Highly notable - The best red meat I have tasted, some delicious wines and utterly and completely ridiculously outrageously gorgeous looking women. I think I'm going to keep working on my Spanish and move to b.a and work as a bike tour guide.